Joining the European Community
decision by the vast majority of the Irish people to join what was then the
Community (EEC) in 1973 has had an impact on our development as a
nation that not even the most optimistic observer of the time could have
Back then Ireland was regarded by most of the global community as an almost
insignificant island, still struggling to find its place in the world more than
five decades after gaining independence from the UK.
In the years before becoming a member state, political leaders like Seán Lemass
and later Jack
Lynch , along with senior diplomats and economists, had argued that
Ireland’s future lay within Europe.
However, Europe wasn’t so sure. Ireland’s agricultural based economy was
choked by its dependence on the UK market, and the country suffered from
poverty, mass unemployment and emigration.
The decision to retain neutrality after the World War II also didn’t go down
well with the European community’s NATO members, and
our first application to join the EEC on July 31 1961 was rejected just a few
The founding six EEC countries expressed doubts about our economic capacity
and our neutrality. Ireland’s policy of protectionism, which saw restrictions
imposed on imports, certainly wasn’t very appealing to a European community
with free trade at its heart.
Leading economists in Ireland had been campaigning for a shift in economic
policy and by the early ‘60s many senior politicians were coming around to the
idea that it was the only way to tackle the high unemployment and mass
emigration that blighted the country.
Ireland continued to press for EEC membership but hopes were crushed in 1963
when then French President, General
Charles de Gaulle , made it clear that France didn’t want Britain to
join the community.
His stand brought an abrupt end to negotiations with all applicant countries
and it was to be another decade before Ireland became a member of the EEC.
A second application in 1967 had been blocked again by President de Gaulle
but in 1969 his successor, George Pompidou ,
promised not to stand in the way of British and Irish membership.
Fresh negotiations began and in 1972 the Treaty of
Accession was signed. A referendum held in May 1972 confirmed Ireland’s
entry into the European community with 83 per cent of voters supporting